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Did a Florida Oil Man Bilk You?

All of us belt-tightening, recession-hardened Americans love "fiscal responsibility" and "free markets." A politician merely says the words "free markets" or "fiscal responsibility" in a sufficiently grim tone and we go wild, like little Asian girls getting their first glimpse of a 22-year-old Paul McCartney. And nobody does "fiscal responsibility" or "free markets" like the Republican Party. Right? Right! Because Republicans respect our hard-earned dollar! Right? Right!

Except, wait a minute, here comes this little story today in the Washington Post -- co-written, I should add, by an occasional New Times contributor, Penn Bullock, who also happens to be my own frequent writing partner -- about Harry Sargeant III, a Delray Beach oil man who may have bilked the United States taxpayer to the tune of $200 million. And what do we find on his résumé? Why, apart from being an entrepreneur, an oil man, and a frequent Republican donor, he's also the former finance chair for the Florida Republican Party!

The WashPo story doesn't make a big deal about this, but it does provide some tasty details on the nature of Sargeant's racket. (If that's what it was. Nobody's officially accused Sargeant of wrongdoing.) Sargeant's been a major military contractor for most of the USA's War on Terror, and his company, the International Oil Trading Co., won several contracts to supply jet fuel to U.S. troops in western Iraq. According to an internal audit at the Pentagon, Sargeant was overpaid for his services. A separate probe conducted by Rep. Harry Waxman (D-California) found that Sargeant's bids were higher than those of most of his competitors, and in anything resembling a "free" market, they'd have been passed over. According to Waxman, these bids were accepted because Sargeant has an unusually cozy relationship with the Jordanian royal family, and somehow -- nobody knows exactly how, except Sargeant and a few very rich royals, none of whom seem especially talkative today -- he secured a monopoly on Jordanian shipping routes. Sargeant's high bids won the day.

"[That $200 million] is money that could be used to give our troops better equipment and save their lives," says Eric Jotkoff, media spokesman of the Florida Democratic Party. "Sargeant's actions -- stealing from the government and potentially putting our troops in danger so he can make a larger profit -- is beyond shameful."

The Florida GOP's spokesman, Trey Stapleton, has yet to return my call.

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Brandon K. Thorp

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